The Glenmutchkin Railway by Professor Aytoun
[The following tale appeared in "Blackwood's Magazine" for October, 1845.
It was intended by the writer as a sketch of some of the more striking
features of the railway mania (then in full progress throughout Great
Britain), as exhibited in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Although bearing the
appearance of a burlesque, it was in truth an accurate delineation (as
will be acknowledged by many a gentleman who had the misfortune to be "out
in the Forty-five"); and subsequent disclosures have shown that it was in
no way exaggerated.
Although the "Glenmutchkin line" was purely imaginary, and was not
intended by the writer to apply to any particular scheme then before the
public, it was identified in Scotland with more than one reckless and
impracticable project; and even the characters introduced were supposed to
be typical of personages who had attained some notoriety in the throng of
speculation. Any such resemblances must be considered as fortuitous; for
the writer cannot charge himself with the discourtesy of individual satire
I was confoundedly hard up. My patrimony, never of the largest, had been
for the last year on the decrease,—a herald would have emblazoned
it, "ARGENT, a money-bag improper, in detriment,"—and though the
attenuating process was not excessively rapid, it was, nevertheless,
proceeding at a steady ratio. As for the ordinary means and appliances by
which men contrive to recruit their exhausted exchequers, I knew none of
them. Work I abhorred with a detestation worthy of a scion of nobility;
and, I believe, you could just as soon have persuaded the lineal
representative of the Howards or Percys to exhibit himself in the
character of a mountebank, as have got me to trust my person on the
pinnacle of a three-legged stool. The rule of three is all very well for
base mechanical souls; but I flatter myself I have an intellect too large
to be limited to a ledger. "Augustus," said my poor mother to me, while
stroking my hyacinthine tresses, one fine morning, in the very dawn and
budding-time of my existence—"Augustus, my dear boy, whatever you
do, never forget that you are a gentleman." The maternal maxim sank deeply
into my heart, and I never for a moment have forgotten it.
Notwithstanding this aristocratic resolution, the great practical
question, "How am I to live?" began to thrust itself unpleasantly before
me. I am one of that unfortunate class who have neither uncles nor aunts.
For me, no yellow liverless individual, with characteristic bamboo and
pigtail,—emblems of half a million,—returned to his native
shores from Ceylon or remote Penang. For me, no venerable spinster hoarded
in the Trongate, permitting herself few luxuries during a long protracted
life, save a lass and a lanthorn, a parrot, and the invariable baudrons of
antiquity. No such luck was mine. Had all Glasgow perished by some vast
epidemic, I should not have found myself one farthing the richer. There
would have been no golden balsam for me in the accumulated woes of
Tradestown, Shettleston, and Camlachie. The time has been when—according
to Washington Irving and other veracious historians—a young man had
no sooner got into difficulties than a guardian angel appeared to him in a
dream, with the information that at such and such a bridge, or under such
and such a tree, he might find, at a slight expenditure of labour, a
gallipot secured with bladder, and filled with glittering tomans; or, in
the extremity of despair, the youth had only to append himself to a cord,
and straightway the other end thereof, forsaking its staple in the roof,
would disclose amid the fractured ceiling the glories of a profitable
pose. These blessed days have long since gone by—at any rate, no
such luck was mine. My guardian angel was either wofully ignorant of
metallurgy, or the stores had been surreptitiously ransacked; and as to
the other expedient, I frankly confess I should have liked some better
security for its result than the precedent of the "Heir of Lynn."
It is a great consolation, amid all the evils of life, to know that,
however bad your circumstances may be, there is always somebody else in
nearly the same predicament. My chosen friend and ally, Bob M'Corkindale,
was equally hard up with myself, and, if possible, more averse to
exertion. Bob was essentially a speculative man—that is, in a
philosophical sense. He had once got hold of a stray volume of Adam Smith,
and muddled his brains for a whole week over the intricacies of the
"Wealth of Nations." The result was a crude farrago of notions regarding
the true nature of money, the soundness of currency, and relative value of
capital, with which he nightly favoured an admiring audience at "The
Crow"; for Bob was by no means—in the literal acceptation of the
word—a dry philosopher. On the contrary, he perfectly appreciated
the merits of each distinct distillery, and was understood to be the
compiler of a statistical work entitled "A Tour through the Alcoholic
Districts of Scotland." It had very early occurred to me, who knew as much
of political economy as of the bagpipes, that a gentleman so well versed
in the art of accumulating national wealth must have some remote ideas of
applying his principles profitably on a smaller scale. Accordingly I gave
M'Corkindale an unlimited invitation to my lodgings; and, like a good
hearty fellow as he was, he availed himself every evening of the license;
for I had laid in a fourteen-gallon cask of Oban whisky, and the quality
of the malt was undeniable.
These were the first glorious days of general speculation. Railroads were
emerging from the hands of the greater into the fingers of the lesser
capitalists. Two successful harvests had given a fearful stimulus to the
national energy; and it appeared perfectly certain that all the populous
towns would be united, and the rich agricultural districts intersected, by
the magical bands of iron. The columns of the newspapers teemed every week
with the parturition of novel schemes; and the shares were no sooner
announced than they were rapidly subscribed for. But what is the use of my
saying anything more about the history of last year? Every one of us
remembers it perfectly well. It was a capital year on the whole, and put
money into many a pocket. About that time, Bob and I commenced operations.
Our available capital, or negotiable bullion, in the language of my
friend, amounted to about three hundred pounds, which we set aside as a
joint fund for speculation. Bob, in a series of learned discourses, had
convinced me that it was not only folly, but a positive sin, to leave this
sum lying in the bank at a pitiful rate of interest, and otherwise
unemployed, while every one else in the kingdom was having a pluck at the
public pigeon. Somehow or other, we were unlucky in our first attempts.
Speculators are like wasps; for when they have once got hold of a ripening
and peach-like project, they keep it rigidly for their own swarm, and
repel the approach of interlopers. Notwithstanding all our efforts, and
very ingenious ones they were, we never, in a single instance, succeeded
in procuring an allocation of original shares; and though we did now and
then make a bit by purchase, we more frequently bought at a premium, and
parted with our scrip at a discount. At the end of six months we were not
twenty pounds richer than before.
"This will never do," said Bob, as he sat one evening in my rooms
compounding his second tumbler. "I thought we were living in an
enlightened age; but I find I was mistaken. That brutal spirit of monopoly
is still abroad and uncurbed. The principles of free trade are utterly
forgotten, or misunderstood. Else how comes it that David Spreul received
but yesterday an allocation of two hundred shares in the Westermidden
Junction, while your application and mine, for a thousand each were
overlooked? Is this a state of things to be tolerated? Why should he, with
his fifty thousand pounds, receive a slapping premium, while our three
hundred of available capital remains unrepresented? The fact is monstrous,
and demands the immediate and serious interference of the legislature."
"It is a burning shame," said I, fully alive to the manifold advantages of
"I'll tell you what, Dunshunner," rejoined M'Corkindale, "it's no use
going on in this way. We haven't shown half pluck enough. These fellows
consider us as snobs because we don't take the bull by the horns. Now's
the time for a bold stroke. The public are quite ready to subscribe for
anything—and we'll start a railway for ourselves."
"Start a railway with three hundred pounds of capital!"
"Pshaw, man! you don't know what you're talking about—we've a great
deal more capital than that. Have not I told you, seventy times over, that
everything a man has—his coat, his hat, the tumblers he drinks from,
nay, his very corporeal existence—is absolute marketable capital?
What do you call that fourteen-gallon cask, I should like to know?"
"A compound of hoops and staves, containing about a quart and a half of
spirits—you have effectually accounted for the rest."
"Then it has gone to the fund of profit and loss, that's all. Never let me
hear you sport those old theories again. Capital is indestructible, as I
am ready to prove to you any day, in half an hour. But let us sit down
seriously to business. We are rich enough to pay for the advertisements,
and that is all we need care for in the meantime. The public is sure to
step in, and bear us out handsomely with the rest."
"But where in the face of the habitable globe shall the railway be?
England is out of the question, and I hardly know a spot in the Lowlands
that is not occupied already."
"What do you say to a Spanish scheme—the Alcantara Union? Hang me if
I know whether Alcantara is in Spain or Portugal; but nobody else does,
and the one is quite as good as the other. Or what would you think of the
Palermo Railway, with a branch to the sulphur-mines?—that would be
popular in the north—or the Pyrenees Direct? They would all go to a
"I must confess I should prefer a line at home."
"Well then, why not try the Highlands? There must be lots of traffic there
in the shape of sheep, grouse, and Cockney tourists, not to mention salmon
and other etceteras. Couldn't we tip them a railway somewhere in the
"There's Glenmutchkin, for instance—"
"Capital, my dear fellow! Glorious! By Jove, first-rate!" shouted Bob, in
an ecstasy of delight. "There's a distillery there, you know, and a
fishing-village at the foot—at least, there used to be six years
ago, when I was living with the exciseman. There may be some bother about
the population, though. The last laird shipped every mother's son of the
aboriginal Celts to America; but, after all, that's not of much
consequence. I see the whole thing! Unrivalled scenery—stupendous
waterfalls—herds of black cattle—spot where Prince Charles
Edward met Macgrugar of Glengrugar and his clan! We could not possibly
have lighted on a more promising place. Hand us over that sheet of paper,
like a good fellow, and a pen. There is no time to be lost, and the sooner
we get out the prospectus the better."
"But, Heaven bless you, Bob, there's a great deal to be thought of first.
Who are we to get for a provisional committee?"
"That's very true," said Bob, musingly. "We must treat them to some
respectable names, that is, good-sounding ones. I'm afraid there is little
chance of our producing a peer to begin with?"
"None whatever—unless we could invent one, and that's hardly safe;
'Burke's Peerage' has gone through too many editions. Couldn't we try the
"That would be rather dangerous in the teeth of the standing orders. But
what do you say to a baronet? There's Sir Polloxfen Tremens. He got
himself served the other day to a Nova Scotia baronetcy, with just as much
title as you or I have; and he has sported the riband, and dined out on
the strength of it ever since. He'll join us at once, for he has not a
sixpence to lose."
"Down with him, then," and we headed the provisional list with the pseudo
"Now," said Bob, "it's quite indispensable, as this is a Highland line,
that we should put forward a chief or two. That has always a great effect
upon the English, whose feudal notions are rather of the mistiest, and
principally derived from Waverley."
"Why not write yourself down as the laird of M'Corkindale?" said I. "I
dare say you would not be negatived by a counter-claim."
"That would hardly do," replied Bob, "as I intend to be secretary. After
all, what's the use of thinking about it? Here goes for an extempore
chief;" and the villain wrote down the name of Tavish M'Tavish of
"I say, though," said I, "we must have a real Highlander on the list. If
we go on this way, it will become a justiciary matter."
"You're devilish scrupulous, Gus," said Bob, who, if left to himself,
would have stuck in the names of the heathen gods and goddesses, or
borrowed his directors from the Ossianic chronicles, rather than have
delayed the prospectus. "Where the mischief are we to find the men? I can
think of no others likely to go the whole hog; can you?"
"I don't know a single Celt in Glasgow except old M'Closkie, the drunken
porter at the corner of Jamaica Street."
"He's the very man! I suppose, after the manner of his tribe, he will do
anything for a pint of whisky. But what shall we call him? Jamaica Street,
I fear, will hardly do for a designation."
"Call him THE M'CLOSKIE. It will be sonorous in the ears of the Saxon!"
"Bravo!" and another chief was added to the roll of the clans.
"Now," said Bob, "we must put you down. Recollect, all the management,
that is, the allocation, will be intrusted to you. Augustus—you
haven't a middle name, I think?—well then, suppose we interpolate
'Reginald'; it has a smack of the crusades. Augustus Reginald Dunshunner,
Esq. of—where, in the name of Munchausen!"
"I'm sure I don't know. I never had any land beyond the contents of a
flower-pot. Stay—I rather think I have a superiority somewhere about
"Just the thing!" cried Bob. "It's heritable property, and therefore
titular. What's the denomination?"
"Beautiful! Dunshunner of St. Mirrens, I give you joy! Had you discovered
that a little sooner—and I wonder you did not think of it—we
might both of us have had lots of allocations. These are not the times to
conceal hereditary distinctions. But now comes the serious work. We must
have one or two men of known wealth upon the list. The chaff is nothing
without a decoy-bird. Now, can't you help me with a name?"
"In that case," said I, "the game is up, and the whole scheme exploded. I
would as soon undertake to evoke the ghost of Croesus."
"Dunshunner," said Bob, very seriously, "to be a man of information, you
are possessed of marvellous few resources. I am quite ashamed of you. Now
listen to me. I have thought deeply upon this subject, and am quite
convinced that, with some little trouble, we may secure the cooperation of
a most wealthy and influential body—one, too, that is generally
supposed to have stood aloof from all speculation of the kind, and whose
name would be a tower of strength in the moneyed quarters. I allude,"
continued Bob, reaching across for the kettle, "to the great dissenting
"The what?" cried I, aghast.
"The great dissenting interest. You can't have failed to observe the row
they have lately been making about Sunday travelling and education. Old
Sam Sawley, the coffin-maker, is their principal spokesman here; and
wherever he goes the rest will follow, like a flock of sheep bounding
after a patriarchal ram. I propose, therefore, to wait upon him to-morrow,
and request his cooperation in a scheme which is not only to prove
profitable, but to make head against the lax principles of the present
age. Leave me alone to tickle him. I consider his name, and those of one
or two others belonging to the same meeting-house,—fellows with
bank-stock and all sorts of tin,—as perfectly secure. These
dissenters smell a premium from an almost incredible distance. We can fill
up the rest of the committee with ciphers, and the whole thing is done."
"But the engineer—we must announce such an officer as a matter of
"I never thought of that," said Bob. "Couldn't we hire a fellow from one
of the steamboats?"
"I fear that might get us into trouble. You know there are such things as
gradients and sections to be prepared. But there's Watty Solder, the
gas-fitter, who failed the other day. He's a sort of civil engineer by
trade, and will jump at the proposal like a trout at the tail of a
"Agreed. Now then, let's fix the number of shares. This is our first
experiment, and I think we ought to be moderate. No sound political
economist is avaricious. Let us say twelve thousand, at twenty pounds
"So be it."
"Well then, that's arranged. I'll see Sawley and the rest to-morrow,
settle with Solder, and then write out the prospectus. You look in upon me
in the evening, and we'll revise it together. Now, by your leave, let's
have a Welsh rabbit and another tumbler to drink success and prosperity to
the Glenmutchkin Railway."
I confess that, when I rose on the morrow, with a slight headache and a
tongue indifferently parched, I recalled to memory, not without
perturbation of conscience and some internal qualms, the conversation of
the previous evening. I felt relieved, however, after two spoonfuls of
carbonate of soda, and a glance at the newspaper, wherein I perceived the
announcement of no less than four other schemes equally preposterous with
our own. But, after all, what right had I to assume that the Glenmutchkin
project would prove an ultimate failure? I had not a scrap of statistical
information that might entitle me to form such an opinion. At any rate,
Parliament, by substituting the Board of Trade as an initiating body of
inquiry, had created a responsible tribunal, and freed us from the chance
of obloquy. I saw before me a vision of six months' steady gambling, at
manifest advantage, in the shares, before a report could possibly be
pronounced, or our proceedings be in any way overhauled. Of course, I
attended that evening punctually at my friend M'Corkindale's. Bob was in
high feather; for Sawley no sooner heard of the principles upon which the
railway was to be conducted, and his own nomination as a director, than he
gave in his adhesion, and promised his unflinching support to the
uttermost. The prospectus ran as follows:
"DIRECT GLENMUTCHKIN RAILWAY,"
IN 12,000 SHARES OF L20 EACH. DEPOSIT L1 PER SHARE.
SIR POLLOXFEN TREMENS, Bart. Of Toddymains.
TAVISH M'TAVISH of Invertavish.
AUGUST REGINALD DUNSHUNNER, Esq. of St. Mirrens.
SAMUEL SAWLEY, Esq., Merchant.
PHELIM O'FINLAN, Esq. of Castle-Rock, Ireland.
THE CAPTAIN of M'ALCOHOL.
FACTOR for GLENTUMBLERS.
JOHN JOB JOBSON, Esq., Manufacturer.
EVAN M'CLAW of Glenscart and Inveryewky.
JOSEPH HECKLES, Esq.
HABAKKUK GRABBIE, Portioner in Ramoth-Drumclog.
Engineer, WALTER SOLDER, Esq.
Interim Secretary, ROBERT M'CORKINDALE, Esq.
"The necessity of a direct line of Railway communication through the
fertile and populous district known as the VALLEY OF GLENMUTCHKIN has been
long felt and universally acknowledged. Independently of the surpassing
grandeur of its mountain scenery, which shall immediately be referred to,
and other considerations of even greater importance, GLENMUTCHKIN is known
to the capitalist as the most important BREEDING-STATION in the Highlands
of Scotland, and indeed as the great emporium from which the southern
markets are supplied. It has been calculated by a most eminent authority
that every acre in the strath is capable of rearing twenty head of cattle;
and as it has been ascertained, after a careful admeasurement, that there
are not less than TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND improvable acres immediately
contiguous to the proposed line of Railway, it may confidently be assumed
that the number of Cattle to be conveyed along the line will amount to
FOUR MILLIONS annually, which, at the lowest estimate, would yield a
revenue larger, in proportion to the capital subscribed, than that of any
Railway as yet completed within the United Kingdom. From this estimate the
traffic in Sheep and Goats, with which the mountains are literally
covered, has been carefully excluded, it having been found quite
impossible (from its extent) to compute the actual revenue to be drawn
from that most important branch. It may, however, be roughly assumed as
from seventeen to nineteen per cent. upon the whole, after deduction of
the working expenses.
"The population of Glenmutchkin is extremely dense. Its situation on the
west coast has afforded it the means of direct communication with America,
of which for many years the inhabitants have actively availed themselves.
Indeed, the amount of exportation of live stock from this part of the
Highlands to the Western continent has more than once attracted the
attention of Parliament. The Manufactures are large and comprehensive, and
include the most famous distilleries in the world. The Minerals are most
abundant, and among these may be reckoned quartz, porphyry, felspar,
malachite, manganese, and basalt.
"At the foot of the valley, and close to the sea, lies the important
village known as the CLACHAN of INVERSTARVE. It is supposed by various
eminent antiquaries to have been the capital of the Picts, and, among the
busy inroads of commercial prosperity, it still retains some interesting
traces of its former grandeur. There is a large fishing station here, to
which vessels from every nation resort, and the demand for foreign produce
is daily and steadily increasing.
"As a sporting country Glenmutchkin is unrivalled; but it is by the
tourists that its beauties will most greedily be sought. These consist of
every combination which plastic nature can afford: cliffs of unusual
magnitude and grandeur; waterfalls only second to the sublime cascades of
Norway; woods of which the bark is a remarkably valuable commodity. It
need scarcely be added, to rouse the enthusiasm inseparable from this
glorious glen, that here, in 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, then in
the zenith of his hopes, was joined by the brave Sir Grugar M'Grugar at
the head of his devoted clan.
"The Railway will be twelve miles long, and can be completed within six
months after the Act of Parliament is obtained. The gradients are easy,
and the curves obtuse. There are no viaducts of any importance, and only
four tunnels along the whole length of the line. The shortest of these
does not exceed a mile and a half.
"In conclusion, the projectors of this Railway beg to state that they have
determined, as a principle, to set their face AGAINST ALL SUNDAY
TRAVELLING WHATSOEVER, and to oppose EVERY BILL which may hereafter be
brought into Parliament, unless it shall contain a clause to that effect.
It is also their intention to take up the cause of the poor and neglected
STOKER, for whose accommodation, and social, moral, religious, and
intellectual improvement, a large stock of evangelical tracts will
speedily be required. Tenders of these, in quantities of not less than
12,000, may be sent in to the Interim Secretary. Shares must be applied
for within ten days from the present date.
"By order of the Provisional Committee,
"ROBERT M'CORKINDALE, Secretary."
"There!" said Bob, slapping down the prospectus on the table with as much
triumph as if it had been the original of Magna Charta, "what do you think
of that? If it doesn't do the business effectually, I shall submit to be
called a Dutchman. That last touch about the stoker will bring us in the
subscriptions of the old ladies by the score."
"Very masterly indeed," said I. "But who the deuce is
"A bona-fide chief, I assure you, though a little reduced. I picked him up
upon the Broomielaw. His grandfather had an island somewhere to the west
of the Hebrides; but it is not laid down in the maps."
"And the Captain of M'Alcohol?"
"A crack distiller."
"And the Factor for Glentumblers?"
"His principal customer. But, bless you, my dear St. Mirrens! Don't bother
yourself any more about the committee. They are as respectable a set—on
paper at least—as you would wish to see of a summer's morning, and
the beauty of it is that they will give us no manner of trouble. Now about
the allocation. You and I must restrict ourselves to a couple of thousand
shares apiece. That's only a third of the whole, but it won't do to be
"But, Bob, consider! Where on earth are we to find the money to pay up the
"Can you, the principal director of the Glenmutchkin Railway, ask me, the
secretary, such a question? Don't you know that any of the banks will give
us tick to the amount 'of half the deposits.' All that is settled already,
and you can get your two thousand pounds whenever you please merely for
the signing of a bill. Sawley must get a thousand according to
stipulation; Jobson, Heckles, and Grabbie, at least five hundred apiece;
and another five hundred, I should think, will exhaust the remaining means
of the committee. So that, out of our whole stock, there remain just five
thousand shares to be allocated to the speculative and evangelical public.
My eyes! Won't there be a scramble for them!"
Next day our prospectus appeared in the newspapers. It was read,
canvassed, and generally approved of. During the afternoon I took an
opportunity of looking into the Tontine, and, while under shelter of the
Glasgow "Herald," my ears were solaced with such ejaculations as the
"I say, Jimsy, hae ye seen this grand new prospectus for a railway tae
"Ay. It looks no that ill. The Hieland lairds are pitting their best
foremost. Will ye apply for shares?"
"I think I'll tak' twa hundred. Wha's Sir Polloxfen Tremens?"
"He'll be yin o' the Ayrshire folk. He used to rin horses at the Paisley
("The devil he did!" thought I.)
"D' ye ken ony o' the directors, Jimsy?"
"I ken Sawley fine. Ye may depend on 't, it's a gude thing if he's in 't,
for he's a howkin' body.
"Then it's sure to gae up. What prem. d' ye think it will bring?"
"Twa pund a share, and maybe mair."
"'Od, I'll apply for three hundred!"
"Heaven bless you, my dear countrymen!" thought I, as I sallied forth to
refresh myself with a basin of soup, "do but maintain this liberal and
patriotic feeling—this thirst for national improvement, internal
communication, and premiums—a short while longer, and I know whose
fortune will be made."
On the following morning my breakfast-table was covered with shoals of
letters, from fellows whom I scarcely ever had spoken to,—or who, to
use a franker phraseology, had scarcely ever condescended to speak to me,—entreating
my influence as a director to obtain them shares in the new undertaking. I
never bore malice in my life, so I chalked them down, without favouritism,
for a certain proportion. While engaged in this charitable work, the door
flew open, and M'Corkindale, looking utterly haggard with excitement,
"You may buy an estate whenever you please, Dunshunner," cried he; "the
world's gone perfectly mad! I have been to Blazes, the broker, and he
tells me that the whole amount of the stock has been subscribed for four
times over already, and he has not yet got in the returns from Edinburgh
"Are they good names, though, Bob—sure cards—none of your
M'Closkies and M'Alcohols?"
"The first names in the city, I assure you, and most of them holders for
investment. I wouldn't take ten millions for their capital."
"Then the sooner we close the list the better."
"I think so too. I suspect a rival company will be out before long. Blazes
says the shares are selling already conditionally on allotment, at seven
and sixpence premium."
"The deuce they are! I say, Bob, since we have the cards in our hands,
would it not be wise to favour them with a few hundreds at that rate? A
bird in the hand, you know, is worth two in the bush, eh?"
"I know no such maxim in political economy," replied the secretary. "Are
you mad, Dunshunner? How are the shares to go up, if it gets wind that the
directors are selling already? Our business just now is to bull the
line, not to bear it; and if you will trust me, I shall show them
such an operation on the ascending scale as the Stock Exchange has not
witnessed for this long and many a day. Then to-morrow I shall advertise
in the papers that the committee, having received applications for ten
times the amount of stock, have been compelled, unwillingly, to close the
lists. That will be a slap in the face to the dilatory gentlemen, and send
up the shares like wildfire."
Bob was right. No sooner did the advertisement appear than a simultaneous
groan was uttered by some hundreds of disappointed speculators, who, with
unwonted and unnecessary caution, had been anxious to see their way a
little before committing themselves to our splendid enterprise. In
consequence, they rushed into the market, with intense anxiety to make
what terms they could at the earliest stage, and the seven and sixpence of
premium was doubled in the course of a forenoon.
The allocation passed over very peaceably. Sawley, Heckles, Jobson,
Grabbie, and the Captain of M'Alcohol, besides myself, attended, and took
part in the business. We were also threatened with the presence of the
M'Closkie and Vich-Induibh; but M'Corkindale, entertaining some reasonable
doubts as to the effect which their corporeal appearance might have upon
the representatives of the dissenting interest, had taken the precaution
to get them snugly housed in a tavern, where an unbounded supply of
gratuitous Ferintosh deprived us of the benefit of their experience. We,
however, allotted them twenty shares apiece. Sir Polloxfen Tremens sent a
handsome, though rather illegible, letter of apology, dated from an island
in Loch Lomond, where he was said to be detained on particular business.
Mr. Sawley, who officiated as our chairman, was kind enough, before
parting, to pass a very flattering eulogium upon the excellence and
candour of all the preliminary arrangements. It would now, he said, go
forth to the public that the line was not, like some others he could
mention, a mere bubble, emanating from the stank of private interest, but
a solid, lasting superstructure, based upon the principles of sound return
for capital, and serious evangelical truth (hear, hear!). The time was
fast approaching when the gravestone with the words "HIC OBIT" chiselled
upon it would be placed at the head of all the other lines which rejected
the grand opportunity of conveying education to the stoker. The stoker, in
his (Mr. Sawley's) opinion, had a right to ask the all-important question,
"Am I not a man and a brother?" (Cheers.) Much had been said and written
lately about a work called "Tracts for the Times." With the opinions
contained in that publication he was not conversant, as it was conducted
by persons of another community from that to which he (Mr. Sawley) had the
privilege to belong. But he hoped very soon, under the auspices of the
Glenmutchkin Railway Company, to see a new periodical established, under
the title of "Tracts for the Trains." He never for a moment would relax
his efforts to knock a nail into the coffin which, he might say, was
already made and measured and cloth-covered for the reception of all
establishments; and with these sentiments, and the conviction that the
shares must rise, could it be doubted that he would remain a fast friend
to the interests of this company for ever? (Much cheering.)
After having delivered this address, Mr. Sawley affectionately squeezed
the hands of his brother directors, and departed, leaving several of us
much overcome. As, however, M'Corkindale had told me that every one of
Sawley's shares had been disposed of in the market the day before, I felt
less compunction at having refused to allow that excellent man an extra
thousand beyond the amount he had applied for, notwithstanding his
broadest hints and even private entreaties.
"Confound the greedy hypocrite!" said Bob; "does he think we shall let him
burke the line for nothing? No—no! let him go to the brokers and buy
his shares back, if he thinks they are likely to rise. I'll be bound he
has made a cool five hundred out of them already."
On the day which succeeded the allocation, the following entry appeared in
the Glasgow sharelists: "Direct Glenmutchkin Railway 15s. 15s. 6d. 15s.
6d. 16s. 15s. 6d. 16s. 16s. 6d. 16s. 6d. 16s. 17s. 18s. 18s. 19s. 6d. 21s.
21s. 22s. 6d. 24s. 25s. 6d. 27s. 29s. 29s. 6d. 30s. 31s."
"They might go higher, and they ought to go higher," said Bob, musingly;
"but there's not much more stock to come and go upon, and these two
share-sharks, Jobson and Grabbie, I know, will be in the market to-morrow.
We must not let them have the whip-hand of us. I think upon the whole,
Dunshunner, though it's letting them go dog-cheap, that we ought to sell
half our shares at the present premium, while there is a certainty of
"Why not sell the whole? I'm sure I have no objections to part with every
stiver of the scrip on such terms."
"Perhaps," said Bob, "upon general principles you may be right; but then
remember that we have a vested interest in the line."
"Vested interest be hanged!"
"That's very well; at the same time it is no use to kill your salmon in a
hurry. The bulls have done their work pretty well for us, and we ought to
keep something on hand for the bears; they are snuffing at it already. I
could almost swear that some of those fellows who have sold to-day are
working for a time-bargain."
We accordingly got rid of a couple of thousand shares, the proceeds of
which not only enabled us to discharge the deposit loan, but left us a
material surplus. Under these circumstances a two-handed banquet was
proposed and unanimously carried, the commencement of which I distinctly
remember, but am rather dubious as to the end. So many stories have lately
been circulated to the prejudice of railway directors that I think it my
duty to state that this entertainment was scrupulously defrayed by
ourselves and not carried to account, either of the preliminary
survey, or the expenses of the provisional committee.
Nothing effects so great a metamorphosis in the bearing of the outer man
as a sudden change of fortune. The anemone of the garden differs scarcely
more from its unpretending prototype of the woods than Robert
M'Corkindale, Esq., Secretary and Projector of the Glenmutchkin Railway,
differed from Bob M'Corkindale, the seedy frequenter of "The Crow." In the
days of yore, men eyed the surtout—napless at the velvet collar, and
preternaturally white at the seams—which Bob vouchsafed to wear with
looks of dim suspicion, as if some faint reminiscence, similar to that
which is said to recall the memory of a former state of existence,
suggested to them a notion that the garment had once been their own.
Indeed, his whole appearance was then wonderfully second-hand. Now he had
cast his slough. A most undeniable taglioni, with trimmings just bordering
upon frogs, gave dignity to his demeanour and twofold amplitude to his
chest. The horn eye-glass was exchanged for one of purest gold, the dingy
high-lows for well-waxed Wellingtons, the Paisley fogle for the fabric of
the China loom. Moreover, he walked with a swagger, and affected in common
conversation a peculiar dialect which he opined to be the purest English,
but which no one—except a bagman—could be reasonably expected
to understand. His pockets were invariably crammed with sharelists; and he
quoted, if he did not comprehend, the money article from the "Times." This
sort of assumption, though very ludicrous in itself, goes down
wonderfully. Bob gradually became a sort of authority, and his opinions
got quoted on 'Change. He was no ass, notwithstanding his peculiarities,
and made good use of his opportunity.
For myself, I bore my new dignities with an air of modest meekness. A
certain degree of starchness is indispensable for a railway director, if
he means to go forward in his high calling and prosper; he must abandon
all juvenile eccentricities, and aim at the appearance of a decided enemy
to free trade in the article of Wild Oats. Accordingly, as the first step
toward respectability, I eschewed coloured waistcoats and gave out that I
was a marrying man. No man under forty, unless he is a positive idiot,
will stand forth as a theoretical bachelor. It is all nonsense to say that
there is anything unpleasant in being courted. Attention, whether from
male or female, tickles the vanity; and although I have a reasonable, and,
I hope, not unwholesome regard for the gratification of my other
appetites, I confess that this same vanity is by far the most poignant of
the whole. I therefore surrendered myself freely to the soft allurements
thrown in my way by such matronly denizens of Glasgow as were possessed of
stock in the shape of marriageable daughters; and walked the more readily
into their toils because every party, though nominally for the purposes of
tea, wound up with a hot supper, and something hotter still by way of
assisting the digestion.
I don't know whether it was my determined conduct at the allocation, my
territorial title, or a most exaggerated idea of my circumstances, that
worked upon the mind of Mr. Sawley. Possibly it was a combination of the
three; but, sure enough few days had elapsed before I received a formal
card of invitation to a tea and serous conversation. Now serious
conversation is a sort of thing that I never shone in, possibly because my
early studies were framed in a different direction; but as I really was
unwilling to offend the respectable coffin-maker, and as I found that the
Captain of M'Alcohol—a decided trump in his way—had also
received a summons, I notified my acceptance.
M'Alcohol and I went together. The captain, an enormous brawny Celt, with
superhuman whiskers and a shock of the fieriest hair, had figged himself
out, more majorum, in the full Highland costume. I never saw Rob
Roy on the stage look half so dignified or ferocious. He glittered from
head to foot with dirk, pistol, and skean-dhu; and at least a
hundredweight of cairngorms cast a prismatic glory around his person. I
felt quite abashed beside him.
We were ushered into Mr. Sawley's drawing-room. Round the walls, and at
considerable distances from each other, were seated about a dozen
characters, male and female, all of them dressed in sable, and wearing
countenances of woe. Sawley advanced, and wrung me by the hand with so
piteous an expression of visage that I could not help thinking some awful
catastrophe had just befallen his family.
"You are welcome, Mr. Dunshunner—welcome to my humble tabernacle.
Let me present you to Mrs. Sawley"—and a lady, who seemed to have
bathed in the Yellow Sea, rose from her seat, and favoured me with a
"My daughter—Miss Selina Sawley."
I felt in my brain the scorching glance of the two darkest eyes it ever
was my fortune to behold, as the beauteous Selina looked up from the
perusal of her handkerchief hem. It was a pity that the other features
were not corresponding; for the nose was flat, and the mouth of such
dimensions that a harlequin might have jumped down it with impunity; but
the eyes were splendid.
In obedience to a sign from the hostess, I sank into a chair beside
Selina; and, not knowing exactly what to say, hazarded some observation
about the weather.
"Yes, it is indeed a suggestive season. How deeply, Mr. Dunshunner, we
ought to feel the pensive progress of autumn toward a soft and premature
decay! I always think, about this time of the year, that nature is falling
into a consumption!"
"To be sure, ma'am," said I, rather taken aback by this style of colloquy,
"the trees are looking devilishly hectic."
"Ah, you have remarked that too! Strange! It was but yesterday that I was
wandering through Kelvin Grove, and as the phantom breeze brought down the
withered foliage from the spray, I thought how probable it was that they
might ere long rustle over young and glowing hearts deposited prematurely
in the tomb!"
This, which struck me as a very passable imitation of Dickens's pathetic
writings, was a poser. In default of language, I looked Miss Sawley
straight in the face, and attempted a substitute for a sigh. I was
rewarded with a tender glance.
"Ah," said she, "I see you are a congenial spirit! How delightful, and yet
how rare, it is to meet with any one who thinks in unison with yourself!
Do you ever walk in the Necropolis, Mr. Dunshunner? It is my favourite
haunt of a morning. There we can wean ourselves, as it were, from life,
and beneath the melancholy yew and cypress, anticipate the setting star.
How often there have I seen the procession—the funeral of some very,
very little child—"
"Selina, my love," said Mrs. Sawley, "have the kindness to ring for the
I, as in duty bound, started up to save the fair enthusiast the trouble,
and was not sorry to observe my seat immediately occupied by a very
cadaverous gentleman, who was evidently jealous of the progress I was
rapidly making. Sawley, with an air of great mystery, informed me that
this was a Mr. Dalgleish of Raxmathrapple, the representative of an
ancient Scottish family who claimed an important heritable office. The
name, I thought, was familiar to me, but there was something in the
appearance of Mr. Dalgleish which, notwithstanding the smiles of Miss
Selina, rendered a rivalship in that quarter utterly out of the question.
I hate injustice, so let me do the honour in description to the Sawley
banquet. The tea-urn most literally corresponded to its name. The table
was decked out with divers platters, containing seed-cakes cut into
rhomboids, almond biscuits, and ratafia-drops. Also on the sideboard there
were two salvers, each of which contained a congregation of glasses,
filled with port and sherry. The former fluid, as I afterward ascertained,
was of the kind advertised as "curious," and proffered for sale at the
reasonable rate of sixteen shillings per dozen. The banquet, on the whole,
was rather peculiar than enticing; and, for the life of me, I could not
divest myself of the idea that the self-same viands had figured, not long
before, as funeral refreshments at a dirgie. No such suspicion seemed to
cross the mind of M'Alcohol, who hitherto had remained uneasily surveying
his nails in a corner, but at the first symptom of food started forward,
and was in the act of making a clean sweep of the china, when Sawley
proposed the singular preliminary of a hymn.
The hymn was accordingly sung. I am thankful to say it was such a one as I
never heard before, or expect to hear again; and unless it was composed by
the Reverend Saunders Peden in an hour of paroxysm on the moors, I cannot
conjecture the author. After this original symphony, tea was discussed,
and after tea, to my amazement, more hot brandy-and-water than I ever
remember to have seen circulated at the most convivial party. Of course
this effected a radical change in the spirits and conversation of the
circle. It was again my lot to be placed by the side of the fascinating
Selina, whose sentimentality gradually thawed away beneath the influence
of sundry sips, which she accepted with a delicate reluctance. This time
Dalgleish of Raxmathrapple had not the remotest chance. M'Alcohol got
furious, sang Gaelic songs, and even delivered a sermon in genuine Erse,
without incurring a rebuke; while, for my own part, I must needs confess
that I waxed unnecessarily amorous, and the last thing I recollect was the
pressure of Mr. Sawley's hand at the door, as he denominated me his dear
boy, and hoped I would soon come back and visit Mrs. Sawley and Selina.
The recollection of these passages next morning was the surest antidote to
Three weeks had elapsed, and still the Glenmutchkin Railway shares were at
a premium, though rather lower than when we sold. Our engineer, Watty
Solder, returned from his first survey of the line, along with an
assistant who really appeared to have some remote glimmerings of the
science and practice of mensuration. It seemed, from a verbal report, that
the line was actually practicable; and the survey would have been
completed in a very short time, "if," according to the account of Solder,
"there had been ae hoos in the glen. But ever sin' the distillery stoppit—and
that was twa year last Martinmas—there wasna a hole whaur a
Christian could lay his head, muckle less get white sugar to his toddy,
forby the change-house at the clachan; and the auld lucky that keepit it
was sair forfochten wi' the palsy, and maist in the dead-thraws. There was
naebody else living within twal' miles o' the line, barring a taxman, a
lamiter, and a bauldie."
We had some difficulty in preventing Mr. Solder from making this report
open and patent to the public, which premature disclosure might have
interfered materially with the preparation of our traffic tables, not to
mention the marketable value of the shares. We therefore kept him steadily
at work out of Glasgow, upon a very liberal allowance, to which,
apparently, he did not object.
"Dunshunner," said M'Corkindale to me one day, "I suspect that there is
something going on about our railway more than we are aware of. Have you
observed that the shares are preternaturally high just now?"
"So much the better. Let's sell."
"I did so this morning, both yours and mine, at two pounds ten shillings
"The deuce you did! Then we're out of the whole concern."
"Not quite. If my suspicions are correct, there's a good deal more money
yet to be got from the speculation. Somebody had been bulling the stock
without orders; and, as they can have no information which we are not
perfectly up to, depend upon it, it is done for a purpose. I suspect
Sawley and his friends. They have never been quite happy since the
allocation; and I caught him yesterday pumping our broker in the back
shop. We'll see in a day or two. If they are beginning a bearing
operation, I know how to catch them."
And, in effect, the bearing operation commenced. Next day, heavy sales
were effected for delivery in three weeks; and the stock, as if
water-logged, began to sink. The same thing continued for the following
two days, until the premium became nearly nominal. In the meantime, Bob
and I, in conjunction with two leading capitalists whom we let into the
secret, bought up steadily every share that was offered; and at the end of
a fortnight we found that we had purchased rather more than double the
amount of the whole original stock. Sawley and his disciples, who, as
M'Corkindale suspected, were at the bottom of the whole transaction,
having beared to their hearts' content, now came into the market to
purchase, in order to redeem their engagements.
I have no means of knowing in what frame of mind Mr. Sawley spent the
Sunday, or whether he had recourse for mental consolation to Peden; but on
Monday morning he presented himself at my door in full funeral costume,
with about a quarter of a mile of crape swathed round his hat, black
gloves, and a countenance infinitely more doleful than if he had been
attending the interment of his beloved wife.
"Walk in, Mr. Sawley," said I, cheerfully. "What a long time it is since I
have had the pleasure of seeing you—too long indeed for brother
directors! How are Mrs. Sawley and Miss Selina? Won't you take a cup of
"Grass, sir, grass!" said Mr. Sawley, with a sigh like the groan of a
furnace-bellows. "We are all flowers of the oven—weak, erring
creatures, every one of us. Ah, Mr. Dunshunner, you have been a great
stranger at Lykewake Terrace!"
"Take a muffin, Mr. Sawley. Anything new in the railway world?"
"Ah, my dear sir,—my good Mr. Augustus Reginald,—I wanted to
have some serious conversation with you on that very point. I am afraid
there is something far wrong indeed in the present state of our stock."
"Why, to be sure it is high; but that, you know, is a token of the public
confidence in the line. After all, the rise is nothing compared to that of
several English railways; and individually, I suppose, neither of us has
any reason to complain."
"I don't like it," said Sawley, watching me over the margin of his
coffee-cup; "I don't like it. It savours too much of gambling for a man of
my habits. Selina, who is a sensible girl, has serious qualms on the
"Then why not get out of it? I have no objection to run the risk, and if
you like to transact with me, I will pay you ready money for every share
you have at the present market price."
Sawley writhed uneasily in his chair.
"Will you sell me five hundred, Mr. Sawley? Say the word and it is a
"A time-bargain?" quavered the coffin-maker.
"No. Money down, and scrip handed over."
"I—I can't. The fact is, my dear young friend, I have sold all my
"Then permit me to ask, Mr. Sawley, what possible objection you can have
to the present aspect of affairs? You do not surely suppose that we are
going to issue new shares and bring down the market, simply because you
have realised at a handsome premium?"
"A handsome premium! O Lord!" moaned Sawley.
"Why, what did you get for them?"
"Four, three, and two and a half."
"A very considerable profit indeed," said I; "and you ought to be
abundantly thankful. We shall talk this matter over at another time, Mr.
Sawley, but just now I must beg you to excuse me. I have a particular
engagement this morning with my broker—rather a heavy transaction to
"It's no use beating about the bush any longer," said Mr. Sawley, in an
excited tone, at the same time dashing down his crape-covered castor on
the floor. "Did you ever see a ruined man with a large family? Look at me,
Mr. Dunshunner—I'm one, and you've done it!"
"Mr. Sawley! Are you in your senses?"
"That depends on circumstances. Haven't you been buying stock lately?"
"I am glad to say I have—two thousand Glenmutchkins, I think, and
this is the day of delivery."
"Well, then, can't you see how the matter stands? It was I who sold them!"
"Mother of Moses, sir! Don't you see I'm ruined?"
"By no means—but you must not swear. I pay over the money for your
scrip, and you pocket a premium. It seems to me a very simple
"But I tell you I haven't got the scrip!" cried Sawley, gnashing his
teeth, while the cold beads of perspiration gathered largely on his brow.
"That is very unfortunate! Have you lost it?"
"No! the devil tempted me, and I oversold!"
There was a very long pause, during which I assumed an aspect of serious
and dignified rebuke.
"Is it possible?" said I, in a low tone, after the manner of Kean's
offended fathers. "What! you, Mr. Sawley—the stoker's friend—the
enemy of gambling—the father of Selina—condescend to so
equivocal a transaction? You amaze me! But I never was the man to press
heavily on a friend"—here Sawley brightened up. "Your secret is safe
with me, and it shall be your own fault if it reaches the ears of the
Session. Pay me over the difference at the present market price, and I
release you of your obligation."
"Then I'm in the Gazette, that's all," said Sawley, doggedly, "and a wife
and nine beautiful babes upon the parish! I had hoped other things from
you, Mr. Dunshunner—I thought you and Selina—"
"Nonsense, man! Nobody goes into the Gazette just now—it will be
time enough when the general crash comes. Out with your cheque-book, and
write me an order for four and twenty thousand. Confound fractions! In
these days one can afford to be liberal."
"I haven't got it," said Sawley. "You have no idea how bad our trade has
been of late, for nobody seems to think of dying. I have not sold a gross
of coffins this fortnight. But I'll tell you what—I'll give you five
thousand down in cash, and ten thousand in shares; further I can't go."
"Now, Mr. Sawley," said I, "I may be blamed by worldly-minded persons for
what I am going to do; but I am a man of principle, and feel deeply for
the situation of your amiable wife and family. I bear no malice, though it
is quite clear that you intended to make me the sufferer. Pay me fifteen
thousand over the counter, and we cry quits for ever."
"Won't you take the Camlachie Cemetery shares? They are sure to go up."
"Twelve hundred Cowcaddens Water, with an issue of new stock next week?"
"Not if they disseminated the Gauges!"
"A thousand Ramshorn Gas—four per cent. guaranteed until the act?"
"Not if they promised twenty, and melted down the sun in their retort!"
"Blawweary Iron? Best spec. going."
"No, I tell you once for all! If you don't like my offer,—and it is
an uncommonly liberal one,—say so, and I'll expose you this
afternoon upon 'Change."
"Well then, there's a cheque. But may the—"
"Stop, sir! Any such profane expressions, and I shall insist upon the
original bargain. So then, now we're quits. I wish you a very
good-morning, Mr. Sawley, and better luck next time. Pray remember me to
your amiable family."
The door had hardly closed upon the discomfited coffin-maker, and I was
still in the preliminary steps of an extempore pas seul, intended
as the outward demonstration of exceeding inward joy, when Bob
M'Corkindale entered. I told him the result of the morning's conference.
"You have let him off too easily," said the political economist. "Had I
been his creditor, I certainly should have sacked the shares into the
bargain. There is nothing like rigid dealing between man and man."
"I am contented with moderate profits," said I; "besides, the image of
Selina overcame me. How goes it with Jobson and Grabbie?"
"Jobson had paid, and Grabbie compounded. Heckles—may he die an evil
death!—has repudiated, become a lame duck, and waddled; but no doubt
his estate will pay a dividend."
"So then, we are clear of the whole Glenmutchkin business, and at a
"A fair interest for the outlay of capital—nothing more. But I'm not
quite done with the concern yet."
"How so? not another bearing operation?"
"No; that cock would hardly fight. But you forget that I am secretary to
the company, and have a small account against them for services already
rendered. I must do what I can to carry the bill through Parliament; and,
as you have now sold your whole shares, I advise you to resign from the
direction, go down straight to Glenmutchkin, and qualify yourself for a
witness. We shall give you five guineas a day, and pay all your expenses."
"Not a bad notion. But what has become of M'Closkie, and the other fellow
with the jaw-breaking name?"
"Vich-Induibh? I have looked after their interests as in duty bound, sold
their shares at a large premium, and despatched them to their native hills
"And Sir Polloxfen?"
"Died yesterday of spontaneous combustion."
As the company seemed breaking up, I thought I could not do better than
take M'Corkindale's hint, and accordingly betook myself to Glenmutchkin,
along with the Captain of M'Alcohol, and we quartered ourselves upon the
Factor for Glentumblers. We found Watty Solder very shaky, and his
assistant also lapsing into habits of painful inebriety. We saw little of
them except of an evening, for we shot and fished the whole day, and made
ourselves remarkably comfortable. By singular good luck, the plans and
sections were lodged in time, and the Board of Trade very handsomely
reported in our favour, with a recommendation of what they were pleased to
call "the Glenmutchkin system," and a hope that it might generally be
carried out. What this system was, I never clearly understood; but, of
course, none of us had any objections. This circumstance gave an
additional impetus to the shares, and they once more went up. I was,
however, too cautious to plunge a second time in to Charybdis, but
M'Corkindale did, and again emerged with plunder.
When the time came for the parliamentary contest, we all emigrated to
London. I still recollect, with lively satisfaction, the many pleasant
days we spent in the metropolis at the company's expense. There were just
a neat fifty of us, and we occupied the whole of a hotel. The discussion
before the committee was long and formidable. We were opposed by four
other companies who patronised lines, of which the nearest was at least a
hundred miles distant from Glenmutchkin; but as they founded their
opposition upon dissent from "the Glenmutchkin system" generally, the
committee allowed them to be heard. We fought for three weeks a most
desperate battle, and might in the end have been victorious, had not our
last antagonist, at the very close of his case, pointed out no less than
seventy-three fatal errors in the parliamentary plan deposited by the
unfortunate Solder. Why this was not done earlier, I never exactly
understood; it may be that our opponents, with gentlemanly consideration,
were unwilling to curtail our sojourn in London—and their own. The
drama was now finally closed, and after all preliminary expenses were
paid, sixpence per share was returned to the holders upon surrender of
Such is an accurate history of the Origin, Rise, Progress, and Fall of the
Direct Glenmutchkin Railway. It contains a deep moral, if anybody has
sense enough to see it; if not, I have a new project in my eye for next
session, of which timely notice shall be given.